WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said Tuesday that his office has made a criminal referral in response to the recent train derailment over the border in East Palestine, Ohio, and the aftereffects on the environment and nearby communities.
Shapiro shared the information at a news conference in East Palestine with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and other officials. A reporter had asked what actions the governors might take, such as penalizing Norfolk Southern, the rail company involved in the Feb. 3 derailment.
"We've made a criminal referral to the acting attorney general in Pennsylvania to review, and acting Attorney General [Michelle] Henry can speak to that beyond my comments," Shapiro said.
Shapiro, a Democrat, was the state's attorney general before he was elected governor last year. He provided no further details about the referral.
In a statement Tuesday, Henry's office said it was “outraged” on behalf of residents suffering from the impacts of the derailment and confirmed that it had received the criminal referral.
“We have just received a criminal referral from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and will act quickly to investigate this incident, gather the facts, and then evaluate the evidence to make a determination under Pennsylvania law," the statement said. "Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water, and we will not hesitate to hold anyone or any company responsible for environmental crimes in our Commonwealth.”
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DeWine signaled at the news conference that Ohio is also preparing to take legal action.
Attorney General Dave Yost "will certainly take the appropriate action, I can guarantee you that," said DeWine, a Republican.
The officials listed what authorities are doing to address residents' concerns about risks to their health and safety and to hold Norfolk Southern accountable.
"The combination of Norfolk Southern's corporate greed, incompetence and lack of care for our residents is absolutely unacceptable," Shapiro said. "I’ve been outspoken about the serious concerns that I had with the company’s failed management of this crisis. ... They gave us inaccurate information and conflicting modeling data, and they refused to explore or articulate alternative courses of action when we were dealing with the derailment in the early days."
DeWine said the communities near where the train derailed are "traumatized," saying residents are concerned not just about the current situation but also about potential long-term repercussions.
Regan announced a sweeping enforcement action to compel Norfolk Southern to conduct and pay for cleanup actions associated with the derailment of the 150-car train, which carried toxic chemicals.
The order requires the company to identify and clean contaminated soil and water; pay any EPA costs, including reimbursing the agency for cleaning services that it will offer to residents and businesses; and participate in public meetings at the EPA’s request and post information online.
The rail company faces multiple class-action suits from members of the East Palestine community over the incident, which forced residents within roughly a mile’s radius to evacuate their homes.
Meanwhile, the consumer advocate Erin Brockovich plans a town hall in East Palestine for Friday. In an interview Tuesday on MSNBC, she reacted to video of Regan and DeWine drinking an East Palestine resident’s tap water.
"In that moment, that condition could have been safe, but that’s not going to be how it’s always going to be," she said. "We’re going to have to deal with how all these chemicals migrate through the water, where they hit the wells. So there’s so much more to this to ensure not only in a moment, but for the future, these people, their water and their health are not being jeopardized."